Putin won’t hin­der Olympic ath­letes

The Rus­sian pres­i­dent says his coun­try’s ath­letes are free to com­pete in 2018 un­der a neu­tral flag

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SPORTS | LEADING OFF - By Jake Rud­nit­sky

Vladimir Putin, fresh on the heels of the widely an­tic­i­pated an­nounce­ment that he’ll seek a fourth term as pres­i­dent, said that Rus­sia won’t stop its ath­letes from com­pet­ing un­der a neu­tral flag at the 2018 Win­ter Olympics af­ter the na­tional team was banned from the Games.

“With­out any doubt, we won’t put up any bar­rier and won’t pre­vent our ath­letes from par­tic­i­pat­ing if they want to com­pete as in­di­vid­u­als,” Putin said Wed­nes­day in Nizhny Nov­gorod. Many of the ath­letes “have pre­pared all their lives for this competition,” and of­fi­cials will have to study the de­tails of the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion on Rus­sia, he said.

The IOC ruled on Tues­day that there’d been “sys­temic ma­nip­u­la­tion of the anti-dop­ing sys­tem in Rus­sia,” in what Pres­i­dent Thomas Bach called “an un­prece­dented at­tack on the in­tegrity of the Olympic Games.” It sus­pended the Rus­sian Olympic Com­mit­tee and banned the na­tional team from the Fe­bru­ary 2018 Win­ter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The IOC said only in­di­vid­ual ath­letes who’ve never vi­o­lated anti-dop­ing rules will be al­lowed to com­pete and with­out the Rus­sian flag or na­tional an­them.

The ban is part of “an ef­fort to force Rus­sia out of ma­jor sport” us­ing “un­founded ac­cu­sa­tions,” Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman Maria Zakharova told re­porters in Moscow.

The U.S. is try­ing to put pres­sure on in­ter­na­tional sport­ing bod­ies “which has noth­ing in com­mon with the ide­ol­ogy of the Olympic move­ment,” Rus­sian Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Ryabkov said, the Tass news ser­vice re­ported.

While the Krem­lin de­nies the ex­is­tence of any state-run dop­ing pro­gram, Putin ap­peared to soften crit­i­cism of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Rus­sia’s “partly to blame” for the sit­u­a­tion it’s in, though the Olympic rul­ing was still “po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated,” he said, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­fax news ser­vice.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

IOC pres­i­dent Thomas Bach spoke dur­ing a me­dia con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day in Lausanne, Switzer­land, a day af­ter the IOC banned the Rus­sian team from the 2018 South Korea Win­ter Olympics.

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